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7 October 2010, 06:26 | Updated: 7 October 2010, 06:41
Scientists at the University of Cambridge believe they've found the cause of pre-eclampsia.
The condition kills 50,000 mothers and 500,000 babies across the world every year.
Experts in Cambridge now hope the results of their 20 year study into the condition will save hundreds of lives every year, and start to see new treatments developed.
The breakthrough has uncovered that the condition is triggered by a protein which causes blood vessels to tighten and constrict when they mix with oxygen.
The risk of this happening in pregnant mums is higher because they have more oxygen in their bodies to supply their unborn babies.
Proffesor Robin Carrell, from the University of Cambridge, led the 20-year research project, and believes the breakthrough could lead to a cure or improved treatment.
He said: ''During pregnancy oxidative changes can occur in the placenta.
These changes, the very ones we have found stimulates the release of the hormone angiotensin and lead to increased blood pressure, can arise as the circulation in the placenta readjusts the oxygen requirements of the growing foetus with the delivery of oxygen to the placenta from the mother.''
Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, believes the research offers ''real hope'' for pregnant mothers.
He said: ''Every year in the UK pre-eclampsia is responsible for the deaths of around six women and several hundred babies.
This research is of the highest quality and offers real hope for developing strategies to prevent or treat this dangerous condition by targeting the process that these scientists have identified.
And of course, although the researchers only looked at pre-eclampsia in this study, similar strategies may be useful for those people with high blood pressure that is not effectively controlled by current medicines.''